By RoxanneB 27 May 2021 7 min read

From pilot to vaccinator after covid halts aviation industry

We spoke to Edgar Harvey Woodhead, a commercial pilot turned NHS vaccinator from West Yorkshire whose aviation career has been halted as a result of the Covid pandemic. Edgar has since switched uniforms to crucially assist the NHS on the vaccination frontline and as a result, received a courage and compassion badge.

Edgar attended Ilkley Grammar school before proceeding to Buckinghamshire New University for a BSc (Hons) in Air Transport Management, alongside pilot training. We find out more about his incredible story of resilience. 


Tell us about your aviation career so far? 

My aviation career really started many years ago when I went for a trial lesson at (then) Multiflight – Leeds Bradford Airport. From there I continued with more trial flights. I often went up to LBA to watch the aircraft when I was younger as well.

I decided that I would combine my pilot studies with an aviation-related degree, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, my general passion for aviation as a whole, beyond piloting with a variety of aspects such as Economics, Finance and Operations. 


What steps have you taken to become a qualified pilot? 

I completed my PPL at Booker Aviation in High Wycombe. My ATPLs were completed at L3 Harris Airline Academy. I then completed my MEP/CPL/MEIR at Diamond Flight Academy, Sweden, before finalising my training on a mentored APS-MCC at VA Cambridge and A-UPRT with partner British Aerobatic Academy.

I have also flown recreationally in the UK (of course!), Spain and Portugal. I have thoroughly enjoyed my professional training, and the variety I have experienced. I truly believe that this enables me to gain more experience, knowledge, understanding, and hopefully, this translates to how I operate on a flight deck. 


What has been a highlight of your aviation career? 

There have been many highlights of my aviation career. I have been lucky to have already flown in multiple countries, so I would say cruising from Sweden to Germany in a DA42 through busy Bremen Radar airspace or flying into Ciudad Real, Spain (storage airport) during COVID and being treated like a VIP!

On that experience, it really was quite a surreal experience to park my C150 next to a Virgin Atlantic A330, and then to be given a tour of the deserted terminal and apron/taxiways of all the parked aircraft. The first solo is always a big moment, for me especially as I had inbound Heathrow traffic holding in the Bovingdon stack just a few thousand feet above me in their own ‘circuit’.

Also, simply finishing training and obtaining the fATPL after the APS-MCC, is really a culmination of all skills learnt before and thus a memorable moment, especially given this completion was in the COVID Pandemic.

The challenge covid has had on your career? 

The main challenge would be COVID has temporarily stopped my expected career path in its tracks. At the beginning of 2020, I vividly remember picking up a pilot friend from Heathrow Airport, to head back to university to complete our degree.

We were discussing our job prospects as we completely expected to finish our training that year and be well into our job opportunities towards the tail end of 2020.

However, the lockdowns and various restrictions inevitably led to delays not only due to the restrictions but also delays stemming from making decisions on how best to proceed with training. 

Should I take a different route – consider dropping commercials for now and follow a FI route for a time? There were lots of questions and big decisions to make. This led to the actuality that by the end of 2020 I was only just finishing my training, with all those job prospects from the start of the year disappearing, in the immediacy at least.

“I can’t say that I have ever given up sight of my end dream..”

I can’t say that I have ever given up sight of my end dream though, and have recently come to realise that at the end of the day, I am still young, I have my life ahead of me, and that my time will soon come and this will pay off, even if it is 1 year + later than expected.


What affect has changing uniforms had on you? 

It has opened my eyes to a completely different career or line of work that I never thought I would be involved in. However, I think this is important as it allows new perspectives and outlooks, and also has taught me new skills.

I think I have greatly enhanced my communication, teamwork, and customer service skills, really being able to fine-tune these in a sympathetic way, which I believe will serve me well with colleagues in the cockpit, but also passengers.

It has also made me want my pilot uniform back even more! Additionally, it has made me understand that there are similarities between aviation and healthcare.

I was already aware that healthcare now seeks to take experiences from aviation particularly relating to SOP’s, human factors, and crew cooperation, and develop their practices, so it’s great to be able to have my eyes opened to this first-hand.


Why did you decide to join the NHS as a vaccinator? 

After obtaining my frozen ATPL and with the prospect of jobs looking decidedly bleak, I decided that I needed to do something productive in the meantime. I enjoy going out and meeting people, and to be honest this was restricted in the lockdown and the vaccinator job is certainly one way of fulfilling this!

I also felt compelled that by vaccinating the population, I am not only carrying out an altruistic task, but I am also contributing to a return to normal life for our country. Therefore, a return to travel, an increase in demand for travel, and the growth of aviation, with job roles opening up again. This has been the main driving force behind my decision.

Alongside this I am of course keeping my aviation knowledge up to date, and preparing myself personally for the potential airline jobs, whether that be from technical standpoints, or personal characteristics, so it really is about trying to achieve a blend of both simultaneously.


Your hopes for the future of aviation and your career?

My hopes for the future of aviation are that we will see a stronger return towards normality this summer, despite restrictions and rules remaining in place.

I say this because, within Europe at least, the relaxation of traveling rules within the EU for example, and the UK traffic light system will be able to kickstart and release some of that pent-up demand.

Hopefully, this will be the first step in a further return to normality.

“…the aviation community we really do rally around and stick with one another and support and help others..”

From my own career perspective, I hope that this will enable airlines to open up recruitment channels. I am constantly on the lookout for any flying jobs – I would just like any job that gets me in the air right now!


Advice for others transferring skills to another profession?

I do think that you have to take a measured approach. Another profession has its way of doing things and its unique modus operandi, so I think sometimes it is best to take stock of this, and then apply your skills learned from your previous profession.

Many people I know are in a similar position to me, with some deciding to delay the completion of their training, some deciding to temporarily pursue non-aviation careers, or some continuing with educational studies such as master’s degrees.

However, one thing I can say is that in the aviation community we really do rally around and stick with one another and support and help others regardless of their situation!


Image sources: Edgar Woodhead